Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sketch Kit: Fat and Happy Again

Fat and happy!

Dieting is overrated. At least where my sketch kit is concerned.

I still believe it’s a good limited-time exercise for me to pare down to the essentials once in a while (if only to lighten my load). A minimal palette (especially an exciting secondary triad) forces me to be less literal and more open-minded about color. And most of the time, realistic hues are not important if I get the values right.

My skinny kit in January
Sometimes, though, a color is symbolically important and shouldn’t be substituted; I missed red and blue (there’s a reason why they are called primary colors). Maybe next year I’ll carry only the primaries and challenge my mixing skills.

As for the other absent tools and materials – the fountain pens, the water-soluble graphite, the detail eraser, the blending stump, the second brush pen – the only thing I missed was the stump. I did trade in the red/blue pencil for a ballpoint mid-month, which, in retrospect, was a faulty move, since I could have used both colors at the fire station.

I have been thinking about last year’s minimalism challenge, which lasted for two months, and wondered why that seemed more successful in terms of my tolerance for fewer tools. I think an important factor is that I had committed to using one sketchbook only – a beige Stillman & Birn Nova. The toned paper, by definition, made me focus on tonal materials, which also eliminated the need for lots of colors. And graphite wasn’t a serious option yet (I didn’t discover that until last July).

Papers that I use in my DIY sketchbook signatures.
This year I decided to allow myself to continue using any type of paper I wanted. I still generally carried only one signature at a time, but I had a choice of my default cold-press 140-pound watercolor paper (for use with watercolor pencils), smooth Bristol paper (for use with graphite) or tan-toned paper. Although I switched out the signatures as needed, I carried materials for use with any of those paper choices so that I wouldn’t have to pick out different tools each time.

The big lesson learned: It’s easiest to pare down my whole kit if I commit to using only one type of paper. Imagine how small and simple my kit could be if I’d commit to using only graphite – one pencil, one kneadable eraser and one detail eraser. Alas, it’s not that simple: The way I use graphite usually takes twice as long as my typical sketches, so it’s not something I can do every time.

As I gathered up my usual kit items to put back in (or not), I evaluated each carefully to see if I could stand to leave it out permanently – and ended up putting almost everything back. Frankly, my kit has been a lean machine for a while, and unless I’m willing to commit to one type of paper at a time, it’s unlikely to get much leaner as a permanent state.

And I’m fine with that. My kit serves me well every day. I neither regret something I left behind, nor do I waste time and energy making choices as I’m trying to walk out the door. The less time I spend thinking about my kit, the more time I have to sketch.

Although I detailed my basic palette last fall, I haven’t talked about my other tools and materials in a while, so here’s the full list:

1. Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen fountain pen filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink (I removed the second Sailor fude fountain pen containing water-soluble ink because that ink is less versatile)
5. Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Artist Pen in a medium gray tone (currently it’s Warm Gray IV)
6. Kuretake waterbrushes, large and small (Eliminating the smaller brush has occurred to me more than once, but every now and then, it’s nice to have a tiny point.)
7. Kneadable eraser (housed in a slender, hinged Daniel Smith watercolor crayon box)
8. Viarco Artgraf water-soluble graphite pencil (I have seriously considered eliminating this item, as I don’t use it often.)
9. Blending stump
10. Tombow Mono Zero eraser for small details (This is a luxury that is probably optional; I may take it out eventually.)
13. A water-soluble hairy brush pen, currently a new Pentel Artist Brush Sign Pen that I’m trying out

A few more essentials
In addition, I always carry these essentials:
  • A DIY signature of paper (See this post for a photo of how thin it is – still the single-most weight- and space-saving item in my kit compared to a commercial sketchbook, which tends to be the heaviest item in most kits.)
  • My newly discovered M+R sharpener for larger colored pencils
  • A KUM Blackwing two-step sharpener for standard-size pencils (Yes, I certainly wish I could sharpen both standard and colored pencils with the same sharpener!)
  • Not pictured: spray bottle for certain watercolor pencil techniques

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